Thursday 11 September 2008


Marc & I had spent early September visiting my family in Colorado and Missouri. Sebastian was 3 months old. Tyson had just gotten married and we had flown to Colorado for his wedding. then we drove with Nanny across the plains for 14 hours (stopping to breastfeed every 3 hours) to my fathers home in Ford City, Missouri.

This was the first time my father and the father of my child had really gotten to know each other. This was the first time Marc had really seen the heartland of the USA. We had glorious weather for the entire trip and we had such a fabulous time. I felt like a real grown up: a mother with her very own family.

We were flying out of Kansas City airport to Chicago to get a connecting flight to London on 9 September. Dad & Elaine dropped us and our not inconsiderable load of luggage off at the airport in plenty of time. We weren't the seasoned traveler's (with children) that we are now. Much to our dismay, the flight was significantly delayed (over 4 hours) due to bad weather in Chicago. No planes were where they needed to be.

Our plane eventually took off and we knew there was a distinct possibility that we would miss our plane in Chicago. This was not good for several reasons. 1) We would have to stay in Chicago overnight. 2) We did not have a enough nappies for Sebastian for that long and would have to find nappies in Chicago near the airport late in the evening. 3) Marc was meant to fly to Princeton, New Jersey on 12 September for business. We had one set of luggage and Marc has one suit (which was in the set of luggage) and when you miss connecting flights your luggage tends to go missing, at least for a couple of days. This would make that turnaround VERY difficult. Little did we know how insignificant these inconveniences would become.

We disembarked at Chicago O'Hare and ran like crazed parents across down the concourse to the international departure terminal. Miraculously, the plane was just pulling away. Ridiculously, because they had just closed the door they could not let us board.

We stood there inches away from the plane with a small baby. Due to my possession of a platinum frequent flyer card (which I was waving around like a mad woman), United Airlines found us some nappies and put us up in a hotel at the airport. We inquired as to the location of our luggage and no one could tell us where it was but assured us that it would be on our flight with us the next day. We were booked on the first flight to London (United had 3 flights/day at that time) the next day!

We were tired and hungry and grumpy. We went to the hotel, checked in, gave Sebastian a feed and relaxed in the hotel restaurant having a couple drinks and some dinner.

The morning of 10 September was a beautiful day. Chicago is one of my favourite cities and Marc had never been there. We took the L train into the city and rode around on the upper deck of a double decker tour bus. We grabbed some quick lunch and headed off back to the airport. We checked in with time to spare and boarded our flight uneventfully checking and double checking with the airline agent that our luggage was definitely on this flight.

We landed at Heathrow airport in London at 6:05 am on the morning of 11 September. We went through immigration, entered the baggage hall and waited. And waited. And waited. After 50 minutes of waiting and a crotchety baby beginning to wail, I approached the desk to inquire after our luggage. They explained that our luggage was still on the ground at O'Hare and had in fact never been loaded on to our aircraft. Since the last flight to London had already left Chicago the earliest we would be reunited with our luggage would be the next day (12 September).

I was furious. I had checked and double checked with the airline staff that our luggage was in fact on the same plane we were. They had assured and reassured me that it was. Now I know they were lying to me, just saying what they needed to say to get me off their desk.

We went home and showered and tried to figure out how we were going to repack for Marc's trip the next day to NJ. We called a friend who had a spare suitcase. We found a couple pairs of underpants in the back of the drawer. We cobbled together some bits and pieces he could wear. And of course, he was going to have to find some time to go shopping (or do laundry whilst there).

Just before 2 pm (GMT) we loaded Sebastian and ourselves into the car and drove over to the doctor's office where Sebastian was scheduled to get the first of his immunizations. I was nervous like any other first time mum. As we were parking a news announcement was made that a plane had flown into the World Trade Centre. I made a comment to Marc that some air traffic controller would lose his job but that it wouldn't be serious because they had designed the WTC to withstand a plane flying into it.

Sebastian got his jabs and we got back into the car. The airwaves were awash with the fact that another plane had crashed into the other tower. I looked at Marc and said "Oh my god, someone is attacking America."

When we got to the house I ran in and turned on the TV. It was at this moment that we realised we no longer had CNN on our cable and I was so frustrated I could just scream. I tried frantically to ring my family who knew that our flight had been delayed but did not know that we had arrived safely. I didn't want to wake them with the time difference and all.

The phone lines were jammed and I couldn't get through.

And then I began to cry. And then the tower collapsed LIVE on television in front of my very eyes. My neighbour, Karen, came over and I collapsed. I had never felt so far away from home in my life.

Marc and I had been to NYC a couple times before we had children. I was working for JP Morgan in Manhattan and Marc would have occasion to go to NJ for the company he worked for at the time. He would come into the city to come out and play with me. We always had so much fun together. On one of our sight seeing trips Marc had suggested we go up to the top of the WTC. I had done that on my first trip to NYC (with my friend, Kerry) and told Marc that I much preferred the view from the top of the Empire State Building and that we should do that instead. He didn't argue, for once.

My perspective of the horrible events of that day and how it has changed the world around me is very different from that of my friends and family. I was not subjected to the constant news coverage of the USA 24x7 news programmes. I was adequately informed on the nightly news and when I read papers or news online. I have watched the aftermath of the war on terror through the eyes of the foreign press and Europeans which are far more critical of the Bush administration and their actions, particularly in Iraq. My opinions are shaped by being an expatriate rather than a resident.

I know that American culture has changed dramatically since that day. I feel it when I visit. I am not a part of that cultural shift. It's almost as if a bit of America's optimism is gone or maybe just shadowed. I know what America used to be but I'm not sure what it is now. It breaks my heart.


Sue said...

Nice post, LaDawn.

There are events in our lifetimes that we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. 9-ll is the most recent. Others are the JFK assassination and the Challenger disaster.

In your country it is probably the death of Princess Diana.

My Grandmother recalled at one time the end of WWI. Our mother was only a few months old and everyone was in the streets celebrating.

What will the next unforgettable event be?

LaDawn said...

hope it is happy rather than tragic!

Janell said...

Great narrative. It scares me a little to read how close you were to the time and place of the events of 9/11.

LaDawn said...

scares me too.....still. I approach this day with considerble anxiety every single year and thank my lucky stars. My heart still aches for those who were not so fortunate.